To replace or not to replace …

After dismantling the Monkey we can now dive deeper into what is needed, which parts are missing, which are faulty, which ones need to be replaced. Or as Shakespear would say: „To replace or not to replace, whether ‚tis nobler in the mind to suffer and keep the original or to take arms against a sea of troubles and invest a lot of money into new parts …“ I might have mixed up some things though.

Parts to always replace … no or given

What ever parts have a normal wear and tear over time will always be replace when refurbishing what ever bike or car. Having everything already easily accessible there’s no hesitation to do an extented service rather than starter over again after a few weeks or months in usage. The parts to include:

  • Engine/gearbox oil and filters
  • spark plug(s)
    as I’m thinking of replacing the engine as such, this will automatically include these items. Only oil as such has to be added, which is not even a full liter and shouldn’t cost more than 10 €
  • air filter
    as always: the question of staying with the original filter housing and replace the filter or going for an open aftermarket part – I guess it will depend on the choice for the engine. Anyway, cost’s will be about 10 € for either of which.
  • break pads, discs – or as for the Monkey – drums
    again the question: just replace the wear and tear or upgrade to disc brakes – at least for the front. Just the pads will be about 30 € for both front and rear in total. May be I should even add the cable for the front brake as it is less than 20 €. Better safe than sorry.
  • fork oil where applicable
    the Monkey only has a simple spring fork, so no need here. But … there are even upside down forks available on the aftermarket … hmm … Let’s see if budget is left over. A complete fork with disc brakes goes for about 170 €
  • chain and sprockets
  • ball bearings for swing arm, steering and wheels
  • tires and tubes

Let’s have a closer look at the last 3 items:

Chain and sprockets

As far as I could research the original ratio is 12 / 37 with a 420 chain of 78 links. Any tooth more in front (or less on the rear) will result in a higher speed, any tooth less in front (or more on the rear) will give a better acceleration.

To my surprise I found 14 on the front and the given 37 on the rear. The 107cc engine was clearly put in to place for speed. As I consider the full automatic gearbox to bit too sluggish I would have opted for the 12 and may be even 40 or 41 in the back. If you do the maths: 1 tooth in front has about the same effect on the ratio as 3 on the rear sprocket (37 divided by 12 = 3,0833). And as the bend for the chain get’s to narrow with any smaller front sprocket 12 should be the least to go for. So any measure to improve acceleration should be done on the rear sprocket from that point on. To replace or not to replace is no question if you look at the picture:

replace or not to replace … no question for the rear sprocket
heavily worn out teeth on the rear sprocket

And once you replace one part of the drive chain, better replace them all. About 35 to 50 €, mainly depending on the brand of the chain, have to be added to the budget.

Ball bearings

Bearings for the wheels and the swing arms are standard parts, therefore very easy to source and quite cheap. Not to replace them would be really a missed opportunity as the most cumbersome part is the work on it. Lot’s of stuff has to be dismantled and sometimes axles – esp. the swing arm one, Honda seems to be specialized on this – can be seized up. Or the bushes a such refuse to get out of the frame. Have every thing in handy pieces knocked down already is half the work done.

Both the upper and lower bearing shell of the steering still look good. They just have to be properly protected for the paint job on the frame. The ball bearing as such will come new.

All bearings for steering, swing arm and wheels will sum up to approx. 40 €.

Tires and tubes

Same as for the sprockets: there’s no doubt about the replacement of the tires. I’m not too sure about the DOT number as it is only a two-digit one (normally it should be at least 3 or 4 digits for the production week and year). The best I could think of would be week 2 of 1999 (because of only one digit for production years pre 2000). But what ever – the brittle look of the tire sidewall says loud enough: „Just dump it!“

The replacement will be the original pair of Bridgestone TW2 in 3.50-8″, which come for about 40 – 50 €/pc. Also the tube is a bit special. Not only in size, but to reach the valve properly it has to be in 90°. Just another 10 €/pc.

Things to replace or not to replace in total

Just the spare parts to replace wear and tear sum up to about 250 €, which is a quarter of my estimated budget. All prices stated above are based on sources in Germany, mainly and If anyone has sources to recommend in Nairobi I’ld be happy to hear about them in the comments below.

First assessment

This step of having a first assessment should normally be taken before buying a car or a motorbike. But we’re talking of monkey business, right? So: as I wasn’t even in Nairobi when my girlfriend bought the bike on my behalf, it has to happen now. After some general history about the Monkey and me, this time we’ll have a first assessment of our new aquisition.

Vehicle Identification

Normally you should find various stickers ans bagdes on the frame of a bike or in the enginebay of a car with a VIN. A vehicle identification number. This Honda Monkey didn’t have any, but just a stamped in number in the frame.

First assessment VIN: Frame No Z50J - 1173131
Frame No Z50J – 1173131

Given the fact that it has a rear suspension we can conclude that it is a model after 1974. Any model before 1974 are the hardtails. By the decals on the tank one can conclude it’s a 1976 model. Here’s an overview of all models. But any literature I could access speaks of yellow as the one and only color of 1976. Which turned out is true for US. On the European and Japanese market two other colors where sold. White and – the one we have – G20 papaw green. Which also seems to be quite rare. Did we find a true gem?

First assessment of the engine

Now for the first time it get’s really tricky on this bike:

If you take a closer look there a two important parts missing: the gear lever on the left and the kickstarter on the right. Clearly this is not the original engine. Anyway – whoever did the swap did a fairly good job. killswitch and start button work, a complete wiring harness for this engine was installed and even a bigger battery.

As much as it works it doesn’t look good and it’s far from original. Worst to see at the side cover which might not be even from a motorbike. It also might explain, why the brake pedal gets in touch with the engine cover

brake pedal hit's the engine cover when released
brake pedal hit’s the engine cover when released

First assessment of the paper work

This was fast and easy: there isn’t just any. Normally you would check the logbook or any comparable documents like a CoC for newly imported vehicles if you get what you’re promised. This bike doesn’t have a registration which already brings me to my first question. Does it need to have one? The seller claimed it doesn’t … but hey, it’s the one who will care the least once sold. Which regulations from NTSA apply? And if it needs a registration how to get one for an almost 50 year old bike? Maybe someone can shed some light on those legal issues in the comments below.

First assessment of the condition

To be honest: though it runs I would rate it „poor, but not hopeless“. Lot’s of parts like the fenders, the headlamp and indicators are missing. Quite unusual BTW the indicators. The front fork has the mountpoints though indicators were uncommon on this model.

First assessment: The front fork has mountpoints for indicators, though those were not common on this model year
The front fork has mountpoints for indicators, though those were not common on this model year

Other parts are poor like the exhaust or the badly repaired seat. Brakes, chain and tires need to be serviced and most certainly replaced. If it is a gem, it’s at least a very unpolished one.

And the polishing that has to be done raises a very cruial question:

Which type of restauration to choose?

  1. The sheer minimum would be to service the bike, replace missing parts and keep all the patina it acquired over the last decades. Keeping it in an „as-is“ condition, just with proper maintenance is one of the latest trends when it comes to car and bike restorations. It had a life, it was used, it shall look used. As much as it would save money my feeling is that it deserves more. Maybe any vehicle deserves more than this.
  2. The next level would be to come to an „as new“ condition. Let it look like a shiny new bike, right out of the 1976 show room. Everything that is faulty or broken has to be refurbished or replaced with original new parts to get it back to it’s old glory.
  3. A „better as new“ condition. Basically the same as variation before but with some enhancements, esp. when it comes to new manufacturing techniques or materials. E.g. replacing some heavy weight cast iron parts with lighter aluminium. But overall it will be the same bike at the end.
  4. Even one step further would be a „contemporary rebuild“. Let’s say: drum brakes will be replaced by disc braces. Or old light bulbs will be substituted by LED lights. This would be the bike Honda would build today using the same basis. Borders are quite blured between 3) and 4) and sometimes even with the next level. Which would be
  5. A „custom restauration“. Just take the bike as a basis to create something completely new. I’ve seen Superbike handlebars on Honda Monkeys with some addtional motor tuning all the way from big bore kits up to 200 cc to even superchargers. Or some relaxed Bobber? You’ll find so many inspiration on the internet and YouTube especially.

Any recommendations?

So guys, what are your ideas when it comes to rebuild this bike? Preserving, restoring, enhancing, tuning? What would you do having this mini trail in your garage? Give me some comments below. And again: if anyone has some information how to get this 1976 Honda Monkey fully legal onto kenyan roads I’ld be more than happy to hear about this.

Honda Monkey Business

Alright. My apologies for being quiet lately. And as you might notice – for the change in focus that will happen with this blog starting with this very post. And for covering the upcoming topics in english henceforth. We start talking about Monkeys. Honda Monkeys to be precise. And the buisness of refurbishing them … aehm at least one. Mine. I’m sure there will be some monkey business along the way.

How the Honda Monkey business all started

Honda Monkey Z50A K2 from 1970/71 Example picture, not my particular bike of these days
Not the particular bike I owned, but the same model, same color.
And mine wasn’t in this perfect condition, still in a very good shape.

My very first motobike was a Honda Monkey Z50A K2 from 1970/71. I was fifthteen and eager to hit the road. At that time in Germany the only motorisied vehicle you could drive with 15 (besides tractors) where mofas. Pedals like a bike, engine like a motorbike and it could be ridden without any driving licence. We are talking of the 1980s – things changed meanwhile, just in case you wonder). When an auctioning in our village was publicly announced and two mofas were amongst the listed items, I knew I had to get one of those! Auctions are always a good chance for a bargain and this one was even round the corner.

Turned out the mofas were two of the a.m. hardtail Honda Monkeys. One in red without any keys and papers and one in blue. At least with keys, still no papers. Unexperienced as I was I would go for the one with at least one item of hassle less. I won the bid for it for the pocket money friendly amount of 150 or 160 DM (Deutsche Mark). I can’t even remember the exact figure – but it was extremely cheap. Which would translate into about the same amount in Euro in todays money (or approx. 20.000 KES for my Kenyan audience).

The monkey business of miscalculation

What I had to learn was: those weren’t mofas at all, but mokicks (because of the kick starter). Meant I had to get me a driving licence at the age of 16. Which was the minimum age to be allowed driving such. First Honda Monkey business. Good news though: it would allow me to travel at 40 km/h instead of just 25 km/h which was the max. for mofas. I used the year in between to get the paperwork done (a story in itself). And to practice (illegally) my riding skills in the woods behind my parents house.

Of course I needed some upgrades for the bike. My bicycle of that time which I used for my school commute already had all bells and whistles. My motorbike shouldn’t stand back. The two things I needed desperately included flashers and a luggage rack. As I said: I had to carry a school back and only primary school kids had backbacks. And indicating with handsignals was up to bicycle riders, not to motor people.

First steps into a biker career

Still I had no real clue what I bought. I learned all the basics about braking, shifting, handle the clutch in the driving school. I tried to apply my new knowledge to my Monkey, but it refused. A closer look discovered my mistake. The „clutch“ lever wasn’t such, but another way to engage the rear brake besides the normal foot pedal on the right. So where was the clutch? With no internet for research I could figure out that the Monkey was semi-automatic. Other than that the 3 gears where shifted as usual. First down, two and three upwards and a centrifugal clutch would do the magic of seamless shifting. Which I was happy to have – I wasn’t to precise with clutch on the driving school bike.

Once I got familiar with all quirks of the bike and was officially allowed to hit the road. Not a day later than my 16th birthday I could eventually start my bikers career. Besides my daily commutes I also started using the Monkey for errands and short stints to the local public pool. At one point I went for a „big“ journey of 200, 250 km all around the hills of Westerwald. A real adventure for a 16 year old!

Supply and demand regulate the price

When my cousin offered me his Yamaha DT 50 – still a mokick, but a full-sized enduro – I got tempted. I started announcing the Honda for 500 DM and shortly after it was sold for 400 DM to some guys who seemed to be familiar with that very model. I concluded of their response to my changes and the uncommon full fledged papers I got for it. Man, was I happy to make that money! Still I can admit I had no clue. That very model at that time was already worth at least twice of what I got paid. Those guys buying must have taken me for a complete idiot selling this cheap.

With todays knowledge I would have bought both the red and the blue one and just kept them. Today vintage Honda Monkeys are traded (depending on model year and condition) in a range of 3.000 to 6.000 €. This is the most Honda Monkey business I encountered so far.

There for it was a rather easy decision to buy the one that was lately offered on, though it already looked very poor on the pictures of the advert. Nevertheless I saw some potential in it.

I am still sure that a bit of love (and of course money) could turn this in to it’s old glory:

What we are talking of is a 1976 softtail Honda Monkey in „papaw green“. Quite an unusual color which for example wasn’t sold in US at all. Other colors of that model year are a clear white (also rare) and a bright yellow (the major color you’ll find on the market).

Next episode will be about an assessment for the bike to get an idea about the upcoming work.